The CNN Washington Bureau’s morning speed read of the top stories making news from around the country and the world. Click on the headlines for more.
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CNN: Mexico's Calderon visits Washington for talks with Obama, Boehner
Mexican President Felipe Calderon travels to Washington Thursday to meet with President Barack Obama, House Speaker John Boehner and others during a two-day visit likely to include discussions on organized crime, immigration, and commerce. There has been tension between the United States and Mexico recently and the meeting may serve to smooth things out. A U.S. diplomatic cable released last fall by WikiLeaks quoted U.S. officials talking about "widespread corruption" in Mexican security agencies and "a dysfunctionally low level of collaboration."
CNNMoney: Government avoids shutdown; hard part still to come
Congress passed a spending bill Wednesday that will keep the government open for another two weeks. That was the easy part. What comes next will be much harder. Republicans were able to include $4 billion in cuts in the two-week bill, something Democrats in the Senate agreed to without too much fuss. But that $4 billion in cuts was the lowest of the low-hanging fruit. House Republicans now want to return to their plan that would cut roughly $60 billion from the federal budget over the remaining seven months of the fiscal year. And that plan contains things Democrats - who control the Senate and the White House - will never agree to.
The Hill: After stopgap budget victory, Boehner hits the gas — and Reid
Speaker John Boehner escalated hostilities between the House and Senate to a new level Wednesday by launching a political attack against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). The surprise criticism of Reid, whose spokesman quickly fired back at the Ohio Republican, came as Congress cleared a bipartisan stopgap bill that at least temporarily averted a government shutdown. Boehner’s claim that Reid has no budget plan and the Nevada Democrat’s response represents the most heated political rhetoric between the two leaders during the new Congress. It also raised new concerns that lawmakers will not be able to agree on a long-term budget deal, as both sides are clearly digging in for a Round 2.
CNN: Napolitano defends proposed Homeland Security budget
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano defended her department's proposed fiscal year 2012 budget Wednesday, saying cuts proposed by House Republicans would hurt the nation's security. If House-approved cuts "become the basis for the FY12 budget, then I think the Congress needs to understand... that, in all likelihood, will have a security impact," Napolitano said. The House budget "cuts technology investments and security improvements on the southwest and northern borders," Napolitano said. "It cuts aviation security measures. It cuts funding to sustain the progress that has been made in enforcing the nation's immigration laws. It cuts critical cyber security tools and operations. It cuts intelligence personnel. It cuts Coast Guard funding to support our war efforts abroad. And it cuts grants that support counter-terrorism and disaster response capabilities at the local level," she added.
CNN: Postal Service says it needs law changes in order to pay bills
Despite significant cost-cutting, the U.S. Postal Service has "an inflexible business model" that will make it unable to pay huge bills without legislative fixes, the postmaster general testified Wednesday. The agency cut $3 billion in costs last year and will see about $2 billion in savings this year, but it still won't have the revenue to meet its obligations, Patrick R. Donahoe told the House postal oversight committee. Despite cutting 230,000 positions in recent years, without significant changes, he said, the Postal Service, which is not taxpayer funded, cannot survive as a self-financed entity.
CNN: Obama plan would accelerate sale of unneeded federal real estate
A vacant federal warehouse in Brooklyn, New York, is one of 14,000 properties targeted under a new proposal by President Barack Obama to accelerate the sale of federal real estate the government no longer needs. Jeff Zients, the federal chief performing officer, said Wednesday the administration wants to create a panel that will recommend how the federal government can sell off excess real estate to bring in or save $15 billion over three years.
Politico: GOP activists grapple with social truce
Social conservative leaders in the Republican Party are coming to grips with a new reality ahead of the 2012 presidential primary: It’s not all about them. For the first time in three decades, a wide-open Republican presidential primary is unfolding in the shadow of an economic recession. That means even in the heavily socially conservative GOP, voters are more focused on the pocketbook than the Good Book. A host of leaders on the cultural right told POLITICO they don’t intend to fight it. Instead, they hope to protect their role in the campaign by ensuring that social issues are part of a larger conservative message.
CNN: Missing Wisconsin Democrats to face $100 per day fine
Wisconsin Senate Republicans on Wednesday adopted a resolution that would fine missing Democrats $100 every day they remain away from the state capital, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald told reporters. The measure could also force the absentee lawmakers to forfeit their parking spaces and discretionary spending accounts. The Democratic lawmakers were not immediately available for comment.
Indianapolis Star: Meeting doesn't end Statehouse standoff
Indiana lawmakers moved only a couple of steps closer Wednesday to bridging the 120 miles separating the Republicans in the Statehouse from the Democrats holed up in Urbana, Ill., but the route to reunion became clearer. Both sides are discussing changes to two key pieces of legislation that could clear the way for Democrats to come back. One affects union workers' ability to land public construction jobs and the wages they are paid; the other would shift public tax dollars to pay private school tuition.
CNN: Tea Party leader: Boehner looks 'like a fool,' should be defeated in a primary
In another display of the Tea Party movement turning on its own ideological supporters, the head of one prominent group has said that House Speaker John Boehner looks “like a fool” as House Republicans push spending cuts in their budget proposal. And that leader wants the Tea Party movement to set a goal for 2012: to defeat Boehner in a Republican primary. To help make his point, Tea Party Nation founder Judson Phillips even referenced a story currently feeding a pop-culture frenzy. “Charlie Sheen is now making more sense than John Boehner,” Phillips wrote in a post to his group’s website on Wednesday.
CNN: Santorum on possible 2012 run
Former Republican Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum appears unfazed by a Fox News decision to suspend him as a contributor while he mulls a presidential run. In his first media appearance since the suspension, Santorum told CNN's John King on Wednesday, "I think they made their call and I respect it." Brett Baier, the anchor of Fox News' Special Report, announced on-air Wednesday that the suspension of Santorum and fellow Fox contributor and presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich was effective immediately and for 60 days "unless they notify Fox that they are not running for president." Their contracts will be terminated on May 1 if they decide to run.
CNN: Fox-less Newt remains gainfully employed
Although he won't be appearing as an analyst on Fox News in the near future, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich will have plenty to keep himself occupied even if he decides against seeking the Republican presidential nomination in 2012. The former Georgia Republican congressman, who now lives in Virginia, holds no fewer than 25 current titles, positions, and occupations, according to a review of public records and filings as well as his various official biographies. Many of these are advisory positions with non-profit or public interest organizations, but others are likely to comprise a significant portion of the former speaker's annual income.
CNN: Pawlenty presidential decision close
Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty may be closer to making a decision on a presidential run than previously thought. A source close to Pawlenty said he will form an exploratory committee in two to three weeks, significantly sooner than most political observers expected. But the official comment so far from Pawlenty staff is that he won't announce a decision until late March or April. And the former governor told Minnesota Public Radio on Tuesday that he would make a decision "sometime in the next 45 days or less."
CNN: Former Louisiana governor to launch 2012 exploratory committee
Former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer told CNN Wednesday that he will announce the formation of a presidential exploratory committee tomorrow afternoon in Baton Rouge. "I will tell the public here and across America that I am concerned about the problems in America and the opportunities that aren't being taken advantage of," Roemer said in a phone interview from his new campaign office in Baton Rouge. "I don't think there is a chosen nominee from the Republican Party," he added. "I don't think there is somebody who is secretly decided to be the candidate. This will be a rigorous debate. It will extend from Iowa to New Hampshire to South Carolina to around America."
CNN: Iowa GOP chief: Presidential race about to heat up
Iowa's Republican Party Chairman predicted Wednesday that the likely entrance of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich into the presidential race will trigger a more aggressive phase of the 2012 Republican primary campaign. Gingrich is expected to enter a presidential exploratory phase Thursday during a visit to his native Georgia. "A lot of the activity that's been happening under the radar, you're going to see out in the open in fairly short order," Matt Strawn told CNN during a visit to Washington.
CNN: Lugar and Hatch come calling on FreedomWorks
Two long serving Republican senators who could face primary challenges from the right as they run for re-election next year both showed up Tuesday night at a reception held by a leading grassroots conservative organization. Senators Orrin Hatch of Utah and Dick Lugar of Indiana separately attended the function, put on by FreedomWorks at their new headquarters, which is located just a few blocks from the U.S. Capitol building. FreedomWorks is a nonprofit conservative organization based in the nation's capital that helps train volunteer activists and has provided much of the organization behind the Tea Party movement. The group also supports conservative candidates in Republican primary and general election contests.
CNN: Akaka of Hawaii announces Senate retirement
Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, announced Wednesday that he will not run for another term, becoming the fifth Democratic senator to retire this year. “As many of you can imagine, it was a very difficult decision for me,” Akaka said in a statement. “However, I feel that the end of this Congress is the right time for me to step aside. It has been a great honor and privilege to serve the people of Hawaii.” “Mr. Akaka,” became a familiar name to those who watch the Senate floor, as he has been called first during roll call for many years. Akaka was first elected to the Senate in 1990, after serving 14 years in the House.
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CNN: 22 new charges for U.S. WikiLeaks suspect
The U.S. Army Wednesday notified Pfc. Bradley Manning, a prime suspect in the WikiLeaks case, that he now faces 22 more charges in connection with allegedly downloading secret information from computers in Iraq. The most serious new charge alleges that he aided the enemy by making this information public. That charge is punishable by death. A news release from the Army said the prosecution team "has notified the defense that the prosecution will not recommend the death penalty," but technically it is up to the commander overseeing the case to make the final decision about the death penalty.
CNN: Anti-gay church's right to protest at military funerals is upheld
A Kansas church that attracted nationwide attention for its angry, anti-gay protests at the funerals of U.S. military members has won its appeal at the Supreme Court, an issue testing the competing constitutional rights of free speech and privacy. The justices, by an 8-1 vote, said Wednesday that members of Westboro Baptist Church had a right to promote what they call a broad-based message on public matters such as wars. The father of a fallen Marine had sued the small church, saying those protests amounted to targeted harassment and an intentional infliction of emotional distress. "Speech is powerful. It can stir people to action, move them to tears of both joy and sorrow, and - as it did here - inflict great pain. On the facts before us, we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the majority.
CNN: Convicted RFK assassin denied parole
A California state panel on Wednesday denied parole for Sirhan B. Sirhan, saying the convicted assassin of Robert F. Kennedy hasn't demonstrated an understanding of the "magnitude" of his crimes. Commissioner Mike Prizmich of the California Board of Parole Hearings told Sirhan that he failed to meet the state's criteria for suitability for parole and added that he failed to seek self-help program and his behavior was immature. In response, Sirhan sought to interrupt Prizmich, who admonished the inmate. Prizmich, however, said Sirhan would be eligible for parole again in five years.
CNN: 9 Ohio veterans test positive for hepatitis
Nine Ohio veterans have tested positive for hepatitis after undergoing routine dental work at a Dayton clinic, according to Ohio Veterans Affairs Communications Officer Todd Sledge. After a dentist at the Dayton VA Medical Center admitted to not washing his hands or changing gloves between patients during an 18-year period, 375 veterans were tested for hepatitis and HIV. Seven of the 375 have since tested positive for Hepatitis C and two for Hepatitis B, according to Sledge. Test results are not complete. The clinic had said all necessary care and treatment will be provided free to a veteran, should they test positive. Sledge had said the clinic is taking full accountability.
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CNN: U.S. mulling military options in Libya
The United States is weighing a possible military role to help the Libyan revolt against leader Moammar Gadhafi, but top U.S. officials warn that the issue is controversial. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told a Senate panel Wednesday that "there may well be a role for military assets to get equipment and supplies into areas that have a need for them" and in areas where the United States is welcome. But she noted the Arab League statement issued Wednesday that rejected "any foreign interference within Libya on behalf of the opposition, even though they have called for Gadhafi to leave. The tough issues about how and whether there would be any intervention to assist those who are opposing Libya is very controversial within Libya and within the Arab community," Clinton told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "So we are working closely with our partners and allies to try to see what we can do and we are engaged in very active consideration of all the different options that are available."
CNN: Libyan no-fly zone would be risky, provocative
After days of unrest in Libya, U.S. officials say a no-fly zone is an option for pushing Moammar Gadhafi from power and preventing bloodshed in toppling the regime. But the use of no-fly zones is rife with danger for both sides, foreign experts say, and instituting one in Libya would raise the geopolitical stakes. …Secretary of Defense Robert Gates warned Congress on Wednesday that any effort to create a no-fly zone in Libya would have to begin with an attack on the country. "If ordered, we can do it," Gates said in answer to a question during a House Appropriations Committee hearing on the Pentagon's 2012 budget. But he warned that imposing such a zone would have to begin with an attack on Libya's anti-aircraft capability.
CNN: Deadly fighting as Gadhafi tries to retake rebel-held town
Libyan aircraft bombed a section of eastern Libya on Wednesday as leader Moammar Gadhafi tried to retake control of an area seized by rebel forces. A CNN crew saw the aircraft drop two bombs near al-Brega, a town in the east with key oil and natural gas facilities. Later, a military aircraft dropped a third bomb. People on the ground shot and threw whatever they could at the aircraft, then fled. After one of the attacks, people carrying stretchers were seen running to the site of the bombing.
CNN: 3 Dutch Navy crew held in Libya, Netherlands says
Three Dutch Navy personnel were captured by armed men loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi during an evacuation operation on Sunday, the Netherlands Ministry of Defence said Thursday. "Intensive diplomatic negotiations" are going on between Dutch and Libyan authorities and relatives of the crew are being kept informed, said Otte Beeksma, a spokesman for the Dutch Ministry of Defense. The crew members were trying to evacuate a Dutch citizen from the Sirte area when they were taken prisoner, he said.
CNN: Two U.S. airmen killed in German airport shooting
A 21-year-old man from Kosovo is in custody after two U.S. airmen were killed and two others were wounded Wednesday in a shooting incident on a U.S. military bus at Germany's Frankfurt Airport, authorities said. The suspect is named Arid Uka, from the northern town of Mitrovica, Kosovo's interior minister, Bajram Rexhepi, told CNN, citing the U.S. Embassy in Pristina as his source. Uka approached the bus, which was parked outside Terminal 2 and was clearly marked as a U.S. military vehicle, German police said. He first engaged U.S. military members in a conversation, then pulled out a handgun and began firing - first outside the bus and then inside the bus, police said.
CNN: India truck crash kills 33 wedding guests
A truck carrying wedding guests fell into a deep gorge Thursday in India's mountain state of Himachal Pradesh, killing at least 33 passengers, police said. The wreck occurred shortly after midnight in the state's Chamba district, Additional Police Superintendent Diwakar Sharma said. Nine people were injured in the crash, he said. Emergency crews at the scene Thursday afternoon trying to pull out the truck from the 300-foot gorge.
CNN: 15 people killed in attacks in Pakistan
A vehicle packed with explosives rammed into a police checkpoint in northwest Pakistan on Thursday, killing nine people, police said. Thirty-one others were hurt in the attack outside Hangu district in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, said police official Aslam Khan. The province was formerly known as the North West Frontier Province. Meanwhile, six tribal policemen were killed and three others injured Thursday when unknown gunmen opened fire on a patrol in Khyber Agency in Pakistan's tribal region, a senior government official said.
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CNN: Steve Jobs' surprise appearance a 'big deal'
Six weeks after announcing an indefinite medical leave, Apple CEO Steve Jobs surprised a lot of people when he took the stage Wednesday to unveil his company's next-generation iPad. The audience at Apple's event gave him a standing ovation and tech bloggers immediately and breathlessly tweeted out the news. "That he came out on stage will go down in history as a big deal," said John Jackson, a CCS Insight analyst. "It's a significant gesture." Jobs was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2003. He had a liver transplant in 2009. On January 17, he took his second leave from the company in the past two years.
Los Angeles Times: Corn-based ethanol producers are cranking up as oil prices soar
Corn-based ethanol is the renewable fuel environmentalists love to hate. But as turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa has sent oil prices soaring, U.S.-made ethanol is making a comeback. Plants mothballed during the economic downturn are reopening. Domestic ethanol production hit record levels last year, topping 13.2 billion gallons, according to the Renewable Fuels Assn. in Washington. Oil companies including Valero Energy Corp., Sunoco Inc. and Marathon Oil Corp. that snapped up facilities when the industry hit a rough patch a few years ago are looking to expand.
USA Today: USA watches as wheat rust makes a damaging comeback
A fungus under control for 50 years is back and ravaging wheat crops in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Once it gets in a field, it corrodes the stalks, turning them shades of brown and red that gives the disease, wheat stem rust, its name. Farmers can do little but harvest what's left, sometimes losing 60% of their crop. Plant breeders struggled with it in the 1960s, believing they had finally beaten it into submission with new wheat strains. But now, after 50 years of remission, it's roaring back, and it has U.S. agriculture officials on high alert for any sign of its return in this country.
In Case You Missed It
Sen. Lindsey Graham tells CNN's John King how he thinks the U.S. should respond the crisis in Libya.
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